A Guide to Planning Financially for the AmeriCorps and Peace Corps
Becoming a volunteer with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps can be a worthy endeavor. Along with having the opportunity to improve community relations abroad, members receive training and earn skills in areas including agriculture, economic development and community outreach. Volunteers are paid a monthly stipend to cover daily living expenses and some programs offer additional funds for completing service.
While service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps can certainly be attractive to a prospective employer, the immediate financial benefits are not exactly lucrative, so having a solid financial plan and budget is a must. But with careful budgeting and planning, joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps can be a sound financial decision.
AmeriCorps vs. The Peace Corps: Which One Is Right for You?
The Peace Corps and AmeriCorps have similar objectives, such as to expand education and improve environmental practices. However, their programs and operations differ, including the terms of service. AmeriCorps requires a minimum number of hours of service per year, for example, while Peace Corps volunteers embark on missions for months at a time. It’s important to compare both organizations and their programs before selecting which mission is right for you.
The Peace Corps
300 hours per year
Number of Programs
Segal AmeriCorps Education Award available
Deferment, partial cancellation, income-driven repayment, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) available on certain types of loans
Things to Know About AmeriCorps
AmeriCorps offers many opportunities to help in several capacities, including ongoing, part-time service and full-time, short-term commitments. Because it is entirely U.S.-based, there are likely opportunities that don’t require travel or being away from home for long periods of time. There are options to work with both seniors and children, and in communities affected by disasters or poverty.
Things to Know About the Peace Corps
The Peace Corps offers the opportunity to cross borders and meet and help people in other countries. As a Peace Corps volunteer, your activities may range from helping to implement sustainable farming practices to teaching basic skills in a classroom setting. The Peace Corps offers extensive training before volunteers embark on their missions, typically for three months up to two years depending on the program.
How to Choose the Right Organization
Choosing to join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps depends on what type of service you are interested in and what your availability is like. The Peace Corps offers the opportunity to travel and requires working in a foreign country for a length of time, while AmeriCorps works in local communities and offers more flexibility. To decide which is right for you, compare how each program works and the benefits offered to you.
Choose an area and type of service
Decide which area you would like to serve in and what type of work you would like to do. It can be helpful to browse through current openings to get an idea of what’s needed.
Compare each program
Compare the financial benefits to each. If you’re a student, you should look at any loan deferment or loan forgiveness options. Think about your current economic situation and if becoming a volunteer is financially feasible.
Review eligibility requirements
Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements for the program you’re interested in joining. If not, research another program.
Reach out to your school
If you’re a student, speak with your student advisor about your plans and see if they have a designated recruiter or any connection to the organization.
Benefits of Joining AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps
Both the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps offer stipends and living allowances that help you pay for daily expenses during your time of service. Though the exact amount you will be paid varies, we provided typical benefits here to give you an idea.
How Much Do AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps Pay You?
Peace Corps members receive an average of $387 per month, plus a readjustment allowance of $375 or $475 per month upon completion of service, depending on length of service.
The allowance provided for AmeriCorps and Peace Corps members varies by several factors. In AmeriCorps, for example, some programs offer an education award and living allowance, like VISTA, while other programs offer a stipend based on your income — or no stipend at all. On the other hand, Peace Corps allowance usually depends on the cost of living for the area of service. Both agencies offer incentives at the end of service for some programs, though Peace Corps calls this a readjustment allowance and AmeriCorps calls it an education award. For Peace Corps volunteers that serve for two years, Peace Corps offers more than $10,000 upon returning home.
What Are the Advantages of Volunteering?
Besides the stipend, there are other financial and personal advantages to joining the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Certain types of loans may be subject to partial cancellation or deferment, and there are also health and travel benefits provided.
1. Tuition Award and Student Loan
Perkins and other loans may receive cancellation benefits. For the Peace Corps, federal student loans may be eligible for forgiveness or deferment. Perkins loans may be eligible for a sizable cancellation benefit. Contact your lender to make sure your particular loan qualifies. If they are unsure, you can request that they contact the National Service Trust Office at (888) 507-5962.
AmeriCorps’ education award can be used to pay student loans. AmeriCorps offers the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award at the end of service to pay qualified student loans. The amount fluctuates depending on the amount of the Pell Grant for that year of service. This can be used to help pay student loans and interest accrued during service.
There are options for student loan holders serving in either the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. Both agencies offer resources on their websites for volunteers with student loans. Remember that student loan policies are at the discretion of the lender, so you should contact your lender to verify what type of loan you have in order to see the options that apply for it. Visit the FAQ section of AmeriCorps’ website and the student loan resources page on the Peace Corps site to learn more.
2. Loan Deferment and Interest Forbearance
Service members are eligible for student loan relief. Both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers are eligible for loan deferment, partial cancellation, repayment plans and other relief for federal and some private loans. Contact your lender and the National Service Trust Office to learn about your options.
Apply for forbearance. For the Peace Corps, contact FedLoan Servicing at (855) 265-4038. For AmeriCorps, you can apply for forbearance in your account page.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) applies for service in the Peace Corps. This allows you to set up a repayment plan that defers payment while you are volunteering. Aside from student loan forgiveness options for federal loans, there may be relief available for private loans for the Peace Corps, though you’ll need to contact your lender to check. Find additional information on student loan repayment options, student loans and service with the Peace Corps.
Similarly, you may be eligible for loan forbearance when serving with AmeriCorps. You may also need to contact both your lender and the National Service Trust Office to learn about your options. According to the AmeriCorps website, volunteers who have completed a term of service can have up to 100% of the interest that accrued on their qualified student loan during their service paid for them. The Segal AmeriCorp Education Award can also be used to help pay for student loans at the end of your service.
3. Health Insurance and Medical Benefits
The Peace Corps provides comprehensive medical care. The Peace Corps covers all medical and dental expenses incurred during training and service. The agency also says it covers the cost of transportation to another country if medical treatment isn’t available in the present area.
AmeriCorps VISTA and NCCC members receive medical care but not dental. AmeriCorps VISTA and NCCC volunteers receive free medical coverage that includes medical and surgical costs and prescriptions. It doesn’t include routine physical exams or dental and vision coverage.
The Peace Corps offers both medical and dental coverage, and benefits extend to members who are on vacation. It also extends coverage one month after service ends for free, with the option for volunteers to pay for two additional months of coverage.
AmeriCorps offers medical coverage only through Seven Corners insurance company. It’s important to note that AmeriCorps states that pre-existing conditions are not covered under the health insurance plan, so it may be important to research additional health insurance options.
The Peace Corps requires that members get certain vaccines before serving, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
4. Vacation Days and Travel Benefits
Peace Corps members earn two paid vacation days per month. The Peace Corps offers its members two vacation days per month. Paid leave is also available if a family emergency arises. The Peace Corps’ global policy handbook outlines its leave policy.
AmeriCorps volunteers get seasonal breaks and holidays off. Depending on what time of year you’re volunteering, AmeriCorps offers anywhere from a long weekend in the spring to a week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Peace Corps covers travel expenses incurred when traveling to the country of service. Volunteers then receive two vacation days per month to be spent however they choose. However, if a volunteer wishes to visit another country or return home during their vacation days, they must cover their travel expenses.
AmeriCorps offers summer, winter and spring breaks, plus federal holidays.
5. Other Program Benefits
Along with an intensive training program, the Peace Corps provides career support upon returning home. Members have access to job fairs and other career networking resources, and assistance with presenting their experience to prospective employers, according to Peace Corps’ website.
AmeriCorps provides members access to its Employers of National Service network. Its alumni network also provides extra benefits to members who have completed service.
How to Budget for Your Financial Future
When you’re living on a meager salary, it’s especially important to come up with a budget you can stick to. Having a clear picture of your income and expected expenses is key to finding a plan that works for you day-to-day. Taking advantage of any plans to have your student loan payments canceled or deferred is a way you can actually improve your finances while serving. But there are other ways to come out of your time in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps financially strong.
Find out how much you will be paid
If you will be receiving a stipend from the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, get the amount and how you will be paid in writing. This is your starting point for creating your budget.
Write a list of the expenses you expect to have
Come up with a rough idea of how much money you will spend on food and daily essentials, and subtract this from the total amount of your stipend. This will help you see if you can comfortably live on the funds provided or if you’ll need to tighten your spending. You’ll also want to factor in your pre-existing debt you may have.
Use an app to help track your budget
Using a budget tracker or template can help you stay organized and on track. You can find many budget templates for free.
Research the cost of living
If you’re traveling to serve, you’ll want to get an idea of how much things cost there. It can be helpful to map out local markets or less touristy spots where you’re likely to pay less for food, clothing and other items.
Look for time deposits
If you have some money set aside in your savings, you might want to look for bank accounts offering higher interest rates and other incentives to put your money in while you’re away. Time deposits like certificates of deposits (CDs) are typically held for fixed terms (generally anywhere from one to five years) and can provide a greater return on your investment than a regular checking or savings account. A compound interest calculator can help you determine how much interest you will earn.
Designate an emergency fund
Try to set aside at least a few weeks’ living expenses so you have cash on hand in case of an emergency. If you’re traveling overseas, padding your pocket provides a safety net and peace of mind.
Maximizing Career and Professional Benefits
If you’re a student with limited work experience, listing community service on your resume is a great way to fill in the gaps. Having completed service with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps will impress many employers and signal to them that you possess valuable skills, such as being a team player and having a strong work ethic.
Why Should I Join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps?
If you’re looking to boost your resume with meaningful service work, joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps can do just that. Both programs offer cultural experiences and training that can be valuable in the workforce. Likewise, both organizations offer professional development services after you complete your service, as well as a network of job opportunities and other resources.
Both agencies also provide opportunities to work in different capacities on environmental, agricultural and economic issues, which can be invaluable experience for future job roles.
Improving Your Resume
Be sure to include your experience volunteering at AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps on your resume. There are several ways you can highlight this information and make it more prominent to catch a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention.
- Create a volunteer and service work section: Rather than weaving your experience into your summary or heading — though this can be effective as well — consider creating a section on your resume with a bulleted list of your tasks and service. Volunteer work is as meaningful on a resume as traditional job experience, and it deserves its own section. Take this space to fully explain the work you did and what you accomplished. You can add this information easily using a resume builder tool — there are many free resources available.
- Consider adding a reference: If you have a list of references on your resume, ask a contact at the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps if they would be willing to provide a reference. References can go a long way toward backing up your accolades and character with a prospective employer.
- Think in terms of results: Instead of simply listing your daily responsibilities, think in terms of the results you helped to achieve. Using strong, active verbs and framing your resume to highlight the successes you had makes you stand out from other applicants.
Networking is a major part of workplace success, and you can leverage your service to meet industry leaders and fellow Peace Corps and AmeriCorps alumni. Both agencies have hosted events like webinars, panels and networking nights that are publicized on their websites.
- Check the Events page: Keep an eye on current Peace Corps events or AmeriCorps featured events. Both agencies host both in-person and virtual networking and informative events that you can register to attend.
- Talk to your university: Many universities have relationships with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps or recruiters. Connecting with the department at your school that is a liaison with these organizations can be a good way to keep up with any events or networking opportunities available to you.
- Join an alumni network: Both the Peace Corps’ alumni group and AmeriCorps' alumni network can help provide job opportunities and other resources to members. Alumni-only events are often held. Start by registering as an alumni with your organization.
- Check LinkedIn and other platforms: Run a search on a platform like LinkedIn to see if there is a group or association with your agency. AmeriCorps Alums has 9,000+ followers on LinkedIn and is a good resource for communication with other members.
Expert Insight on Budgeting Your Money and Managing Student Loans
MoneyGeek spoke with several financial professionals to glean expert insight on saving and budgeting your money while in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. The input they provided can help you plan to minimize your expenses and maximize your savings during your time of service. They also noted special considerations for those with student loans.
- What are some smart financial moves to make when joining the Peace Corps?
- Do you have any advice for applicants with student loans?
Certified Financial Planner and Financial Advisor at Millennial Wealth Management
SVP of AltLINE Sobanco
Partner and Senior Financial Advisor at Investor Solutions
Founder and CEO of Physicians Thrive
Resources on Joining AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps
There are many resources available to help you learn about your options for joining AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. In particular, find helpful information about affording your student loans during your time of service.
- Peace Corps Salary and Benefits: Learn about what salary, paid leave and insurance options the Peace Corps offers.
- Segal AmeriCorps Education Award: AmeriCorps members are eligible for this award that can be used to help pay student loans and educational expenses.
- AmeriCorps Stories: Learn about other volunteers’ experiences serving in AmeriCorps to get an idea of what service is like.
- Peace Corps Stories: Learn about other volunteers’ experiences serving in the Peace Corps to get an idea of what service is like.
About the Author
- National Park Service. "VISTA Position Compensation Summary." Accessed October 20, 2021.
- Glassdoor. "Peace Corps Volunteer Monthly Pay." Accessed October 20, 2021.
- Peace Corps. "2020 Factsheet." Accessed October 20, 2021.
- Peace Corps. "Allowances and Benefits." Accessed October 20, 2021.
- AmeriCorps. "What are the benefits I receive for serving with AmeriCorps NCCC?." Accessed October 23, 2021.
- AmeriCorps. "Is my loan a qualified loan?." Accessed October 23, 2021.